Bah! Humbug! Action! Seasonal movies for the holiday-spirit-deficient
Christmas is nearly here, and for most of us that means the sacred rituals of holiday: carols fluting over the radio in a steam-filled kitchen; the happy smiles on the faces of children surrounded by New Stuff; a licence to stand in front of the fridge at one in the morning scarfing brandy butter directly from the plastic tub.
But some feel otherwise. You know who you are. You're filled with horror at the thought of being forced to spend time with people with whom you have nothing more in common than a genetic inheritance. You loathe that vast, bland beach-ball of white and grey meat that lands on the table at dinner. If you hear one more high school choir singing 'Jingle Bells' and, every time they get to the bit about 'laughing all the way', inserting 'Ha! Ha! Ha!', you're going to get medieval on someone's ass. You think that Pottersville in It's A Wonderful Life, with its dive bars and loose women, looks a lot more fun than sappy old Bedford Falls. This article is for you.
Christmas movies are a tradition as old as cinema itself, the first ever being George Albert Smith's 1898 Santa Claus, itself a small miracle of trick photography (and at only one minute and 16 seconds, worth a peep), but the trouble with Christmas films is that they're so darn Christmassy. The aforementioned It's A Wonderful Life spends its first two acts remorselessly turning its hero from an optimistic youngster into a middle-aged, suicidal wreck, and poor old George undoubtedly earns his happy ending, but even fans would admit that said ending goes on too long. The various versions of Miracle on 34th Street have not yet been officially recognised as likely to induce type II diabetes, but should be.
We at The List believe that even clenched, dead-spirited Scrooges deserve Christmas viewing of their own. Luckily, we are connoisseurs of films which are set at Christmas but aren't Christmas movies. All these films take place over the holiday season, but they're guaranteed to contain no more than trace amounts of inspirational moments, unexpected kindnesses, smiling pink-cheeked youngsters and seasonal holiday cheer. No need to thank us. We know you'd prefer not to.
As action films about murderous criminals go, Die Hard is surprisingly cuddly, with Bruce Willis in top form as the harried but wisecracking cop forced to contend with Alan Rickman, his gang of crooks and a bunch of law enforcement officials whose intelligence is in inverse proportion to their rank and prestige.
Magical Christmas Moment: A pair of lift doors opening to reveal a dead crook with a Santa hat on and the words 'Now I have a machine gun Ho-Ho-Ho' written on his jumper.
Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe got a mixed response, but in terms of helmets melting onto faces, bodily mutation and sheer death toll, it's undoubtedly misanthropic enough for our purposes.
Magical Christmas Moment: Badass medic Shaw (Noomi Rapace) surgically excising an alien from her own abdomen.
Less Than Zero
This adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's novel of disaffected young LA folk and their drug dealers is almost as cold as the original book, and features a standout early performance from a young Robert Downey Jr as the hapless Julian.
Magical Christmas Moment: Julian's former classmate and dealer Rip (James Spader, boo!) forcing Julian into prostitution in order to pay off his drug debts.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Shane Black's parody of film noir is so dark that it's what Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel would call 'none more black'. Outrageously entertaining stuff, with Robert Downey Jr as Harry, a thief pretending to be an actor, and Val Kilmer as a flamboyantly gay private eye.
Magical Christmas Moment: Early on, Harry's hand gets slammed in a door and he loses a finger. He spends the next part of the film carrying it around with him, in the hope that it can be reattached, but it gets eaten by a dog.
Nice nurse Naomi Watts gets involved with some unusually horrible Russian mafia folk, in a heartwarming tale of sex trafficking and murder.
Magical Christmas Moment: Two goons armed with linoleum knives going up against a naked Viggo Mortensen.
The French Connection
New York detective Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Cloudy (Roy Scheider) try to nail smooth, wealthy heroin mogul Charnier (Fernando Rey), but the Frenchman is always one step ahead.
Magical Christmas Moment: In the final chase, Popeye takes aim at someone he thinks is Charnier, and shoots the man. Not only is the man not Charnier, he's not even a criminal.
Three Days of the Condor
In the beginning of this 1975 conspiracy thriller, meek CIA analyst Turner (Robert Redford) comes back to work after lunch one day to find all his co-workers shot dead. After that it all goes downhill.
Magical Christmas Moment: see above.
We bet you didn't even know that Hitchcock's 1960 nerve-shredding masterpiece was set at Christmas, but the opening title card says 'Friday, December the Eleventh'. The action skips later on to a week later, and by the end of the film it's probably around Christmas morning. Ho ho ho!
Magical Christmas Moment: Take your pick, but at least Norman does love his mother.